October 8, 2015 \ Rachel Jellinek
Harnessing Information: Make Your Data Work for You

Yesterday I attended an event hosted by Women in Development of Greater Boston (WIDGB) on how to get value out of your organization’s data.  Here is what I wanted to share with you:

1) James Cheng from Memorial Sloan Kettering says that he thinks about data in four ways:

  • Hindsight – When reviewing the results of a project, what have I learned from it?  What could I have done differently to possibly get more effective results?
  • Oversight – What have I missed?  What could be reexamined?
  • Insight – What kinds of patterns am I discovering within the data?
  • Foresight – How can I use my results to predict or forecast what might happen down the road?

2) In addition, he shared that it is critical to talk to key people who will be using the data to learn what types of problems they are trying to solve.

3) When examining your organization’s capacity to work with data, it is important to think about how you are able to handle:

  • Data management – access to data and inputting it
  • Data analysis – how to make sense of it to solve the problems you want to tackle
  • Data communication – how to communicate your findings

James stressed that if you can’t tell the story of what the data means, then why collect it?

4) Co-panelists Kristin Hill from Tufts University School of Medicine and Ana Leon from Community Servings noted that knowing Excel and Access is a good strategy, especially if you don’t have the resources to afford other more sophisticated programs.  There are Meet-ups and free online resources and tutorials that can help you learn more about how to work with data, if you need to boost your skills in that arena.

5) All three panelists mentioned that Google, LinkedIn and Facebook can be your best friends when it comes to trying to fill in gaps in your databases.

6) When asked what should be three priorities for folks who might be embarking on data discovery, the panelists suggested focusing on:

  • Donor retention rates
  • Where key growth is – in what segments?
  • Looking beyond giving history to understand the velocity and acceleration of giving over time

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